The common thread linking the two releases on this reissue -- one from a razor sharp big band, the other from a dynamic piano trio -- is the accessible, engaging virtuosity of the players. The 13-member Clarke-Boland group on Jazz Is Universal is big on the basis of sound and big names alone, if not in numbers. Drummer Kenny Clarke is outstanding, playing with passion and energy, always at the service of the overall sound. Francy Boland, who did the arranging, is a swinging and propulsive lyrical pianist. He is especially good when the music strips down to the soloist and rhythm section. Add uncanny precision in the ensemble and unison sections and excellent solo work across the board, and big band aficionados will have no difficulty finding a feast of riches in these seven tracks. All hands are in the forefront on After This Message and that's all good when the players are as fine as pianist Dwike Mitchell, bassist Willie Ruff, and drummer Helcio Milito. The trio combines the rampaging splendor of Oscar Peterson's trio with the intimate impressionism of Bill Evans'. With this chemistry, "I Got Rhythm" is reharmonized as a bluesy tone poem. Similar magic is worked on the haunting, modal performance of "Autumn Leaves." "The Prank" is the only clunker. It has Ruff overdubbed on French horn in a further demonstration that -- Birth of the Cool notwithstanding -- this tricky instrument has a difficult time finding a comfortable home in the mainstream of jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Jim Todd